David Herschell Edwards.

One hundred modern Scottish poets : with biographical and critical notices (Volume 10) online

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Whose grassy slopes are silver-streaked

With laughter-flashing rills.

Hark, jocund words of pointed wit
King with a blithe, good cheer ;

Young men and maidens, rosy-faced,
About the grange appear.

And sally forth right glad to see
The harvest sky so clear.

The brigVit blade glitters in the grass.
The young folk stand aside.

To work, the mower riseth up,
And with a sturdy stride,

Down where the grain is heavy-earet]
He coiueth in his pride.



WILLIAM HOUSTOtTN. 93

The stout arm swings, and swift and keen

The scythe cuts down amain
The glossy stalks, that rustling fall

Top-heavy with good grain —
The farmer smiles to see the sheaves,

And cheer the sweating swain.

For soon the rumbling cart shall come

Along the winding road,
Home, harvest home, shall be the cry,

To hail the teeming load ;
While we in gratitude avow

The lasting love of God.



WILLIAM HOUSTOUN

MAS born in 1857 at Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire,
the birthplace of Robert Allan, a contem-
porary of Robert Burns and Robert Tannahill. He
was educated at Quarrelton Parish School, which lies
at the foot of the Gleniffer Braes, rendered famous in
song by the pen of the sweet singer of Paisley. While
still a boy, and in company with his parents, he went
to the United States of America, visiting many of the
principal cities there. After his mother's death,
which took place in Columbia, South Carolina, he re-
turned to his native land along with his father, who
immediately thereafter sailed for China, where he had
obtained an appointment in the Chinese Imperial
Customs at Shanghai, leaving the young poet under
the. care of his grandparents. In 1871 he entered the
Post Office service at Johnstone, and two years later
transferred his services to the Telegraph Department,
G.P.O., Glasgow, where he holds an important appoint-
ment.
Our poet, who devotes his spare liours to literature,



d4 MODERN SCOTTISH POETS.

has for many years been a frequent contributor, both
in prose and verse, to various weekly and monthly
periodicals, among which might be mentioned Sunday
Talk, the Ardrossan Herald, and the Helensburgh and
Gareloch Times, with the latter of which he has been
closely identified for several years. Mr Houston, be-
sides being a member of several literary societies, is
also a Fellow of the Scottish Society of Litei'ature
and Art. His prose productions are marked by a grave
and dignified tone, while neatness of phrase and pleas-
ing thought are characteristics of his Muse. In every-
thing that he writes there is evidence of a heart strung
to give the tender tones of love, faith, and Christian
sympathy.

GOD.

No God ! VVho made yon shining sun on high ?

Who made yon silv'ry moon — nocturnal lamp —
And countless stars that stud the midnight sky,

To light this world's drear night-vales, dark and damp ?
Who sends in Spring refreshing, fost'ring showers,

The diamond-sparkling dew, and soft wing'd-hreeze?
Who strews in summer, fields with briglit-eyed flowers,

And clothes with verdant foliage the trees ?
Who spreads in rich profusion Autumn's bower.

And scatters stores of mellow fruit around
Who sends the snow, stern Winter's icy power,

To fertilise the dead, exhausted ground?
Rise, men of thought, flash the great truth abroad,

"Earth with her thousand voices echoes — God !"

GOD'S BOOK.

O Sacred Book ! Of Heaven's vast gifts the best !

Life's counsellor and guide safe to the end !
When giant Doubt has filled us with unrest, .

Thy truths have swept away his thoughs that tend
To mind disquiet, stealing ho.'y peace

Which we've received through thee, from Christ, the Son,

We prize thee, Book divine, for what thou'st done ;
For all that thou art destined yet to do
In teaching nations who war's arts pursue

To love each other, and their turmoil cease.
O blessed book '■ Thou'rt Heaven's bright lamp, to guide

Our weary footsteps to that home above,



WILLIAM HOUSTOUN. 95

There, 'neath Christ's sov'reign smile, we'll bask and 'bide
Eternally — in the all-perfect Love.

WHY THIS UNREST.

Why this sad mournful song?

Why dost thou sigh and weep ?
Sad heart ! 'twill not be long

Ere thou shalt sleep.
Be still I for surely He,

Thy God, doth know thy grief ;
And, weary heart, resigns^d be,
He'll send relief.

Oh ! never breathe complaint.

For He will make thee bold ;
And, if thou shouldest faint
In Death's stern hold.
He'll courage give to thee ;

And, walking by thy side,
Dispel the terrors grim that be,
And with thee 'bide.

Be still ! sad weary heart,

And give thyself to God ;
From thee He'll never part,

But ease thy load.
And He will give thee rest —

For thou may'st never die —
But dwell for ever on His breast
Beyond the sky.



A REVERIE.

Through woodland haunts at close of day

T like to rove.
There, where wrapt wooers wend their way,

And whisper love ;
When as the Sun's expiring glow
In sapphire dips the plain below ;
Or when queen Cynthia's silver beam
Is mirrored in the placid stream.

I love to spend some idle hours

In fern-edg'd nooks.
Or watch meand'ring by the bowers

The brawling brooks.
Or hearken to the plumaged throng.
That live the rocks and woods among ;



96 MODERN SCOTTISH POETS.

Or seated 'neath some age-bent trees
Inhale the passing scept-wing'd breeze.

I love to linger by the shore

And hear the sea
Or ripple, or tumultuous roar —

Tis' sweet to me !
In cloud or shine, in foul or fair,
'Tis highest pleasure to be there ;
The very wind-wafts borne along
Bear on their wings both health and song.

' Tis bli&s supreme to hear the strain
Peal through the grove.
Of these wild soothers of the brain-
Creatures we love ;
The thrushes and the linnets rare —
Sweet quiet'ners of giant Care '■
Mayhap by Providence they're sent
To teach mankind to live content.



MAGGIE.

When with ambient tints, Maggie,

The sun lights up the sky.
When among the trees, Mat'gie,

The gentle zephyrs sigh ;
When o'er dusky hills, Maggie,

Peeps the full-orbed moon.
And fills with silv'ry light, Maggie,

The leafy vales of June ;

Where the limpid streams, Maggie,

Prattle through the dell ;
Where the wilding flowers, Maggie,

Bind us with a spell ;
Where the birds' sweet song, Maggie,

Stirs the sylvan glade,
. We'll meet at twilight's close, Maggie,

'Neath trellised woodbine's shade.

There, by the moss-fring'd well, Maggie,

Near which grows many a fern ;
Wht're the castle stands, Maggie,

'Mid scenery wild and stern —
I have a tale to tell, Maggie —

To tell alone to thee —
And though 'tis old to some, Maggie,

'Tis over new to me.



R. A. WATSON 97



ROBERT A. WATSON, M.A.,

f^S an Aberdonian by birth, but not by descent, his
^3^ father having begun life in a Kincardineshire
village, and bei»g of a Cromarty stock on one side.
Mr Patrick Watson was a teacher for some time, and
then began business in the city of i\berdeen. His
eldest son, inheriting the father's taste for literature,
went from the Grammar School to the University,
where, amongst other distinctions, he gained a first
prize for a poetical translation from Horace, and took
his degree of M. A., with honours in the Natural Science
department. Inheriting also his father's quiet, strong
devotion to Secession principles, he entered the Divinity
Hall of the United I'resbyterian Church, and chose
to accept, in preference to another call, that of a con-
gregation at Middlesbrough-on-Tees. There he spent
rather more than seven years, cultivating poetry and
philosophy in the brief paui*es of ministerial cares, but
publishing nothing. A good man}- poetical efforts of
this period were addressed to the friend who became
his wife, and were for strictly "private circulation."
In 1879 he received the call of a Dundee congregation,
and since then has been chiefly engaged in the many
labours of ministering to a considerable number of
working people in a busy town, and taking a full share
of presbyterial work. The poetic fire finds expression
sometimes in a paraphrase of a psalm for a Sabbath
discourse, sometimes in a hymn for the children ;
occasionally time is snatched for a more ambitious
effort, and one such is contributed specially to this
volume. For the rest, it goes into the sermons, and
those who are at all able to catch the spirit of their
teacher are aware of a high clear strain of Christian
thought, an originality, because a true genuineness of

G



98 MODERN SCOTTISH POETS.

preaching, a fine enthusiasm for Christ and His king-
dom, sMch as are not found everywhere. Mr Watson is,
however, known in the reUgious world chiefly as a
critic of unusual power and keenness, his article in the
Contemporary Review on I'rofessor Henry Drummond's
book (" Natural Law in the Spiritual World ") being
regarded as one of the most weighty criticisms directed
against that popular work. He has since wrestled
with Matthew Arnold in the pages of the British and
Foreign Evangelical Revieiv, and he is about to publish a
volume of critical essays dealing with the " counterfeit
evangels " of the day. This sort of work may not be
poetry, yet it demands much the same kind of insight,
and can only be done eflfectually by one who unites to
the student's knowledge of science a measure of the
poet's knowledge of Nature and of man.

THIS LIFE AND BEYOND.

I.

Afloat on the ocean of life we are cau(,'ht, ere we know,

III the strong set of currents that silently, steadily flow.

Through zones of fair weather and sunshine, o'er crystalline seas

AVe are urged by the stream, hurried on by desire like a breeze;

No motion too swift for the ardour that burns in the breast,

No future too fair to behold in the mystical West.

Through sphere after sphere, in the bright dreams of hojie, we

are borne
From the night with its calm to the new resurrection of morn.

n.
But we leave the .smooth reaches ; and, sudd.^n, the heart is

aware
Of powers elemental astir in the sea and the air ;-
Andfthe ocean is furrowed liy hnig-rolling liillows that sweep
Frooi the troubled horizon and lift us to heaven as they leap.
Tlieu we hear the tierce call of the tempest, our spirits elate
On the edge (jf the strife and the imminent issues of fate.
In the crash of the thunder we stand up and face the vast storm;
We fjuail not, we dare ; — what we dare we have strength to

perform.
Blow win Is, blow your wildest, ye lightnings Hameout overheaii :
We yield not to you, we compel you to serve us instead.



R. A. WATSON. 99

We fly with the gale over miles, over leagues of the main ;

It is life to plunge on, to endure the tumultuous strain.

Yes, we live now at length, for the tempest, the foam-crested

wave,
The elements, mad in their riot, are serfs of the brave.



Eat the ocean is broad ; and the chill winds that burst from tiie

pole
Numb the muscles and nerves, and iiir)re tense is the strain on

the soul.
We long now for morning ; we peer through the drift ami the

haze
For some glimpse of the shore we shall reach at the end of the

days :
And we waken to thought ; cry aloud " Is this life? Is our all
A voyage across the grim sea, underneath the dark pall
Of clouds that shake downward upon us their pitiless rain ?
We have hoped : is our hope a delusion, nm labour in vain ?
How cruel the surge ! How it heaves, how it le,ii)s evermore !
Is there never a moment of respite, — no harbour, no shore
Shall we drift thu? along till some wave, in its vehement sweep.
Overwhelms our frail vessel, engulfs us at last in the deep?
Better death than a life of unrest in the face of des]iair.
Is there none that can save us, no power that responds to a prayer?



And we call upon God : O God, if Thou ndest above,

O God, if Thou stoopest to pity, or deignest to love.

Behold us. Thy creatures, who wrestle with tyrannous foive ;

One ray clear and steady vouchsafe that may show the right

course.
Or quell this mad tumult, or lift the close veil of the mi^t,
And show us, remote, the great mountains, eternally kissed
By the sunshine that fades not, the far-away gi>al of our life.
We are weary with labour, we faint in the stress and the stiife.



Falls a voice from on high : "For the creature no exit from change,

No haven of utier repose in the liuiitless range

Ever opens its portal. BehoM ! The Creator alone,

At whose presence the nrountains how down, sits unmoved on a

throne
That i - centred in fathomless calm. All around and below
The tides of existence obey Him, in ebb and iu How.
Ye are men, not as God. Tlirough the cycles oi death and of

birth
Immortal ye move where the currents of being go forth.



100 MODERN SCOTTISH POETS.

Fear not tbe riark waters ; yonr travail anil anguish He tells
Who liolds in His grasp the great ocein, the storm when it swells.
Behind and before He lieseta you, above and beneath
His miyht everlasting enfolds you in life and in death."



'Tia the voice of a dream : for, close on the ultimate bound
Of endurance, we see but the tumult, the darkness profound.
Our strength is departed. What hope for the weary and old
But to sink into slumber? Our years are a tale that is told.
From the calm of the lilessed oui- life is dissevered for aye.
We will rest;' we will die — give the conquering ocean his prey.



Yet behold ! O'er the billows of change, in the face of the storm,
What shape is advancing majestic, what luminous foru) ?
What hand is outstretched to the tempest in roj'al command
Thrtt it iiau-^es and droojjs '! At tlie helm who has taken his stand
To pilot our vessel? In mute ailoratinu we gaze;
For we know Him, the Son of the Highest, the Ancient of Days,
And He speaks : — " O my brothers, fear not ; lo ! I live who was

dead.
To the highways of being ye move in the changes ye dread.
I guide you tlirough death ; and, beyond, immortality lies
^Vhere the sunshine of God kindles dawn in His infinite skies.
Behold, ye advance where the waves of a measureless dee[j
Shall lift yo\i to rapture, shall bear you along in their sweep,
Where new constellations that HAine in the bosom of night,
New suns in expanding horizons shall give to your sight.
In mystic procession, the splemiours of God as they more
Tlirough the orbits of law, in the vast revolutions of love."



VOICES OF THE TOWN.

Forth from the gloom of the city I wandered till o'er me
Spread the blue sky untainted at len,L;th, and before me,
Down the resounding hollow cumbered and shrouded,
Chimneys, and roofs, and house-rows ma/.ily crowded.

Many a theme of reflection and reason of wonder
Lurked in that scene ; and I bethought me how, under
Those dark banners of smoke for ever uncoiling.
Masterful Want kept all the multitiade toiling.

Men and women with eager hearts and affections,
Ceaselessly moving among their life recollections.
Gifted eacli with a soul of heavenly creation,
Godward reaching with blind or brave aspiration.



R. A. WATSON. 101

Rank upon rank, amid the whirling and flashing,

Pinions and levers and shafts, that with thunderous crashing

Move from morn to night with speed unabated,

Brer exacting toil and ever unsated.

There are they spending the hours and years of existence,
And while the engines they tand, with iron persistence
Cease not from going, they, one by one, from their places
Silently pass, and forgotten soon are their faces.

Darkly enough the doom upon them is lying.

Swiftly enough the lives of the toilers are flying ;

Oh, will ye not have pity, ye men of invention ?

Racked are their sinews and brains, and ye add to the tension.

Whereunto tends this ever-increasing commotion,
Tossing of human lives like waves of the ocean ?
When shall we cease to disquiet ourselves and each other —
Man by his craftiest science but vexing his brother ?

So as T mused there deepened the shade nf misgiving.
Grief for the dead, forebodings-dark for the living ;
And with my soid oppressed by comfortless pity
Homeward slowly I held my way through the city.

But, as I went, the songs of the children light-hearted
Fell on my ear and much of my sadness departed —
Joy will survive, for childhood ever rejoices ;
Loud in the dingiest lane is the mirth of young voices.

Burdensome children, who lighten the burden of labour,
Shout at your play and dance to the pipe and the tabor !
Strange to our carefulness freedom like yours, but we borrow
Hope from your gladness and strength for the toil of to-morrow.

THE NEW YEAR.

Soft in the silence of the night

That was not stirred by his calm flight

There came an angel :
The Old Year fell asleep, the New
Awoke to hear where'er he flew

His sweet evangel.

He whispered to the dreaming child.
Who in his happy slumber smiled :

The sailor steering
Beneath the quiet midnight sky
Looked up to heaven with glistening eye

That angel hearing.



102 MODERN SCOTTISH POETS.

It was of Grace his message told,
And Hope divine that grows not old,

Nor faints nor falters.
" Behold," he said, " The fire of love
From year to year burns bright above

On heavenly altars.

" One feeds the flame, your Brother dear,
Who knows the bitterness of fear.

The sting of sorrow :
All that is wrong he will set right.
And there shall dawn on every night

A holier morrow.

" Another year begins. Arise!
The sunward slope before you lies,

The radiant portal,
Up, in the ardour of new faith !
Press onward through the clouds of death

To life immortal."

Thus did the Old become the New,
The glory broadened as he flew, —

God's holy angel.
And far and wide beneath his wing
The earth lifts up her voice to sing

The great evangel.



'*4^"'



JOHN WALKER

.|1?URNISHES a worthy example of what can be
^ accomplished by indomitable perseverance under
the most discouraging and adverse circumstances. He
was born in Rothesay in 1857. While- still a child,
his parents removed to Glasgow, where he received
his education, and where he still i-esides. During his
boyhood he had a strong desire to be an artist, but,
having no (jne to guide and encourage him in his
tastes, and being obliged very early to contribute to
the support of his widowed mother, he had to apply



JOHN WALKER. 103

himself to the readiest and most remunerative occupa-
tion within his reach. He is at present employed in
one of our large factories, and although under the
necessity of earning his livelihood by uncongenial toil,
he still continues to foster in his leisure hours his
natural love for artistic and literary pursuits. By
private study, and by attending evening classes he
obtained nearly all the certificates in drawing and
music that could possibly be reached by one who had
only small leisure to devote to such subjects, and whose
means were limited.

Although indulging secretly in verse-making, for
some time Mr Walker did not venture to submit any
of his attempts for publication, until coming in contact
with MrWm. Houstoun — the subject sketched on page
93 — who at that time edited a small parish maga-
zine. Mr Houstoun's warm appreciation of his com-
positions, his willing sympathy, and kindly encourage-
ment were to a large extent the means of drawing out
his latent poetical faculties. His poems show that he
possesses a considerable share of the " divine afflatus,"
and a warm sympathy with the finer feelings of
humanity. A keen and intelligent love of Nature is
disclosed in his poetry, while a well-regulated mind,
and a highly religious and moral character, like glints
of sunshine, are shown in all his writings. It might be
added that Mr Houstoun informs us that some of Mr
Walker's sketches in landscape and portrait-painting are
full of promise, and in a paper on our poet, entitled
" A New Singer," he says — " I have often seen him
spellbound at the sight of the setting sun, and many a
panegyric has rippled from his lips as it sank adown
tlie western horizon, tipping with opal tints the moun-
tain crests. The poems of Mr Walker are the offspring
of a lively fancy, aided by a taste which is at once
refined and true. They are consequently elevating
and instructive to all students who are fond of scenes



104 MODERN SCOTTISH POETS.

of Nature described in words of artistic finish. When
expounding scientific truth, he presents to the un-
initiated in that field of research pictures which he can
understand and appreciate ; and when his deft pen
sets to work on passages of history which appeal to
his genius as worthy of being embalmed in the
beautiful garb of poetry, he does so, always subordinat-
ing art to truth. Herein lies his power of stirring
the emotional part of our being to sympathy with
the past, and individuals who lived in those times.
He has not yet published his poems collectively, or in
book form, but it may be safely predicted that when
he does take a thought to become famous, he will find
his place amongst the foremost of our minor bards."

THE LAST HYMN.

Sing, mother, sing, I hear your voice although my eyes are dim,
Draw nearer to luy be



Online LibraryDavid Herschell EdwardsOne hundred modern Scottish poets : with biographical and critical notices (Volume 10) → online text (page 7 of 28)